Modern IT management has many branches, including software development, operations management, security optimization, and so on. With most, if not all, significant corporate strategies succeeding or failing on the strength of digital and IT teams, it is important to find a way of managing these elements that suits the requirements of your company while also optimizing what teams and departments are capable of.
In this environment, a number of methodologies and management philosophies have emerged. Two of the most popular and successful options are ‘Agile’, a management style outlined in the Agile Manifesto, and ‘DevOps’, a combination of ‘Development’ and ‘Operations’ that advocates shared responsibility across integrated teams.
As is often the case with popular ways of doing things, both Agile and DevOps are often treated as buzzwords, typically by organizations that want to enjoy the benefits but do not understand what either approach entails, let alone whether they would make suitable choices. So, what is Agile? What is DevOps? How are they different, and how can they complement one another?
What is Agile?
Agile is a management philosophy that originally focused on software development but has since been adapted to suit more general projects as well. It deviates from traditional waterfall management techniques in that it uses iterative and adaptable goals rather than sticking rigidly to targets established early on. Agile teams will adapt to changing environmental factors, as well as evolving client or customer requirements, to make sure the results are completely optimized.
Agile teams tend to be cross-functional, with greater accountability and autonomy driving efficiency at the cost of managerial control. Teams will focus on short-term deliverables to create value early and continuously, allowing clients to start enjoying the benefits prior to a project’s completion.
While the values and principles are outlined in the Agile Manifesto of 2001, there are several different interpretations of Agile created to suit varying teams and project types. These include PRINCE2 Agile, AgilePM, and Scrum.
What is DevOps?
Broadly speaking, DevOps is a philosophy designed to bridge the gaps between development and operations staff. When treated as purely separate teams, ‘Dev’ and ‘Ops’ can experience friction, with developers wanting to release new software and updates quickly, and operations staff concerning themselves with stability. Without proper balance, the result will either be subpar products that fail to meet standards of reliability and useability or untenable bottlenecks that prevent companies from achieving the speed required to maintain their competitiveness.
DevOps upends this by breaking down silos and having previously separate teams share responsibility for achieving important goals and maintaining levels of quality, reliability, and so on. Increased automation helps to empower continuous integration, continuous deployment, and ongoing efficiency, and specialists will apply their own expertise outside of their typical points of focus in order to share insight and keep improving how things are done.
How are Agile and DevOps different?
There are numerous differences to take into account:
- Agile is about relatively small teams working together to react quickly to the changing needs of customers. DevOps is about combining siloed teams within a shared ‘DevOps culture’
- Agile often involves ‘sprints’ that aim to deliver specific results in a set amount of time that can range from weeks to months. DevOps is focused on short-term goals, empowering cultures to potentially make several releases per day
- Agile focuses on changing customer requirements and evolving environmental factors. DevOps focuses on the automation of continuous integration and deployment pipelines to empower frequent releases
- Agile involves flexibility and uncertainty, which can make it less suitable for larger teams. DevOps, however, works best with large cross-functional teams
- When Agile is applied to IT, it primarily focuses on software development, while DevOps is about the fast delivery of end-to-end business solutions
- Agile is about constant adaptation and changes, whereas DevOps has more of a focus on testing
- Agile mainly focuses on client and customer interaction for feedback. DevOps also uses feedback, but it mostly comes from internal teams
- Agile is a ‘shift-left’ style that advocates testing early and often in the development/ project lifecycle. DevOps is both shift-left and shift-right, with continuous testing going on even after the point of release
- In an Agile team, the idea is usually that anybody can take on any task. In a DevOps culture, different DevOps engineers will have their own skills and backgrounds. This makes clear communication more of a priority, especially as all team members will share responsibilities. In other words, ‘DevOps engineer’ is far more of an umbrella term
- Documentation is less important in Agile, as the idea is not to hand work off to different teams, and goals and ways of doing things are likely to evolve anyway. In DevOps, documentation is much more important, as the cross-functional approach requires greater clarity
- Traditional Agile is primarily focused on software development. In DevOps, equal importance is put on development, testing, and implementation
- Agile projects can be regularly adapted to better meet changing requirements and optimize quality. In DevOps, quality is achieved with automated testing that helps to identify and remove flaws
Even with the differences between Agile and DevOps, it’s important to realize that there is room for collaboration between the two approaches. However, adopting either Agile or DevOps requires a cultural shift that unfamiliar teams and managers need to get used to. As a result, there is also a great deal of potential for the two to clash if the implementation is too heavy-handed.
This is most prevalent in larger organizations, in which ways of working are more ingrained for the sake of reliability, and there is less room for flexibility as a result. This makes it difficult to advocate one significant change, let alone two. Big organizations also tend to involve larger teams that focus on their own departmental goals and cannot afford to keep changing things up or sharing the concerns of others.
What does this mean for those wanting to adopt either DevOps or Agile? To put it simply, you need qualified implementation from an experienced practitioner; someone who can adapt either approach to suit you and, when necessary, integrate elements of other frameworks, methodologies, and philosophies to create an effective bespoke style.
Either way, you will need to remain aware that neither Agile nor DevOps is intended to be a be-all-end-all approach. In the current Digital Age, opportunities to improve management practices appear constantly. Maintaining the freedom to adapt and improve has been fundamental to the longevity of the two philosophies.
Agile vs. DevOps tools
Knowing how to implement either Agile or DevOps also means knowing which tools to use.
Popular Agile tools include:
- Agile Manager
- Active Collab
- JIRA Agile
- Agile Bench
- Pivotal Tracker
Popular DevOps tools include:
Implementing Agile, DevOps, or both
Ultimately, both Agile and DevOps are designed to improve collaboration in a way that directly correlates with value. They simply take different approaches:
- Agile has a fundamental focus on adapting in order to suit user needs and deliver results in increments
- DevOps focuses on collaboration, reliability, and automation to speed up releases without sacrificing quality and stability
The best choice will depend on the size and structure of your team, as well as your priorities. Whatever your best option may be, you will need someone sufficiently skilled and experienced to not only implement your chosen approach but also continue refining it until it works as well as possible.
Part of this may well involve training your staff. There are a number of Agile and DevOps certifications that suit the varying requirements we discussed above. For example, you have PRINCE2 Agile project management from AXELOS, and AgilePM, which comes from APMG International and is based on the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM). Some of the best DevOps certifications, meanwhile, come from the DevOps Institute. These include DevOps Foundation for beginners, along with DevOps Leader for senior DevOps engineers and also DevSecOps engineering for cultures that want to treat security in the same way as development and operations.